Opinion & Editorial

No ‘lion’ about this wildlife encounter

A leisurely Sunday afternoon spent diddling away at the Oregon Coast is always an adventure in my book, especially if it concludes with a terrifying sprint to the car with my life flashing before my eyes.
Combing the beach for sand dollars, putzing around at low tide for starfish, feeling the spritz of spurting Pacific Ocean geysers; throw in the fourth biggest feline in the world, and you’ve got yourself a full afternoon AND a near-death experience in tow.
To escape one of those infamous, gray Southern Willamette Valley days on Jan. 27, we found ourselves at Cape Perpetua, about three miles south of Yachats.
It’s a beautiful area, a fresh, calming space where the temperate spruce rainforest fluxes to the sea. There’s 2,700 acres of coastal habitat there, and it is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast.
Lance and I have been there a handful of times over the last few years to hike those impressive old growth forests. There are 23 miles of interconnecting trail systems in the area, one of which is Captain Cook Trail.
This trail, a loop system, gives you relatively easy access to the forest; picturesque rocky shorelines; views dramatic waterspouts erupting from the sea; and active tidepools to scope out when the water recedes.
Basically, it is a little slice of paradise.
Our first point of interest was Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm. An ocean geyser driven by the tide, Spouting Horn funnels ocean water into a shoreline cave, builds up pressure and then spits out water like an erupting fountain.
It’s a powerful coastal anomaly that kind of just makes you go, ”whoa, man. Cooool.”
But we didn’t get that far on this hike.
Running along the top of the trail around dusk, we first cut down to scope out the tide pool situation, but changed our minds after noting the tide schedule and decided to go to Spouting Horn first instead.
After about a minute standing at the bottom of the trail, we turned around to head back the way we came.
We spotted what appeared to be a large, tawny dog sitting in the middle of the path waiting for its owner. The animal was looking the opposite direction, up the trail. Our eyes followed the curvatures of its backside as Lance noticed a long tail swaying on the ground. The animal turned its neck, exposing the contours of a big cat’s face.
Lance’s demeanor changed REAL quick.
”Hey Erin, there’s a dog on the trai—Stop. Moving.”
We stood 30 feet away from a creature that can leap 30 feet from a standstill – a cougar.
It sat in the middle of the trail we were just on, assuming it must’ve popped out of the brush to see what the commotion was about after we ran by.
Our bodies stiffened like planks as we slooowly backed away, around the bend of the trail.
And then, well we just ran like Hell.
We darted up the other side of the loop, frantically looking behind us. My muscles tensed as I realized there was an opportunity for the cougar to cut us off at the top of the connecting trail.
But I suppose we weren’t worth the cat’s efforts; we made it back to the car without being savagely mangled.
We sat there for a few minutes, doors locked, chests heaving, laughing nervously in disbelief of what just happened.
We made our calls to Oregon Department Of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Oregon State Police and then drove back down to Florence, ate bay shrimp and sucked down a couple Bloody Marys.
It was a good day.
I guess you just never know how you’re going to react when faced with imminent danger.
In retrospect, it was PROBABLY not a great idea to stimulate a predator’s instinct to chase by, you know, running away like prey. What’s more, cougars usually hunt at night or during the gloaming hours of dawn and dusk. We were there about 5:30 p.m. Doh!
We got a free pass that encounter, but figured this an opportune moment to educate myself better on what to do in a cougar encounter, given that there’s an estimated 6,600 in Oregon.
If you see a cougar, don’t pull an Erin. Instead, ODFW says you should:
• Stay calm and stand your ground.
• Maintain direct eye contact.
• Do not bend bend down or turn your back on the cougar.
• Back away slowly.
• Do not run. Running triggers a chase response in cougars, which could lead to an attack.
• Raise your voice and speak firmly.
• If the cougar seems aggressive, raise your arms to make yourself look larger and clap your hands.
• In the event of an attack, fight back with rocks, sticks, tools or any other items nearby.
Happy hiking, friends & felines!



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